Beth Schultz
Beth Schultz is editor of No Jitter and program co-chair for Enterprise Connect. Beth has more than two decades of...
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Beth Schultz | September 29, 2016 |


Cloud Voice Quality: Skype for Business Partners Got You Covered

Cloud Voice Quality: Skype for Business Partners Got You Covered Get help from the Skype for Business partner ecosystem to assure your enterprise users have great end-to-end calling experiences.

Get help from the Skype for Business partner ecosystem to assure your enterprise users have great end-to-end calling experiences.

A small pleasure for me as a business traveler is sinking into a good book on my way home from a brain-numbing (in a good way) trip -- say, from Atlanta post-Microsoft Ignite. After spending three jam-packed days at the conference, where cloud-related content prevailed, the only kinds of clouds I wanted to think about as I flew home yesterday afternoon were the scenic ones hanging overhead in the Nebraska wilderness depicted in the novel I was reading.

That was my plan, but I got sidetracked a few chapters in when I got to this passage: "... her heart was sick as she tried to think of a way to warn her mother, who still didn't understand about the telegraph, or the newest invention, the telephone, which captured a person's voice and sent it across the land. Rose wondered if the voice would sound the same when it returned from its journey."

Well dang it if we're not still more or less wondering the same thing today -- a topic, in fact, of much discussion at Ignite. And so there I was, barely mid-flight, and off to thinking not about the Western sky, but once again about the quality of cloud voice.

As I mentioned earlier this week in my No Jitter post, "Showtime for Skype for Business Online," Microsoft believes that a great experience with Skype for Business is contingent on lots of preparation. Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of Skype, declared it from the stage as he delivered a keynote on cloud communications. "One of the things we learned over the last few years, one of the single biggest indicators of whether you're going to have a great experience or an OK experience with Skype for Business," he said, "is how well you evaluate, plan, and deploy the product."

The cloud simplifies things, "but there's still a bunch of work to be done," he added.

One of the best ways to assure this from the get-go is to start off with a network assessment. Just because an enterprise has been running VoIP over its network for years doesn't mean that network is optimized for voice. Run a network assessment and you're sure to find faulty access points and misconfigured routers, for example.

Of course, even if an organization has fine-tuned its network prior to pushing voice into the cloud, jitter or other problems may still arise. And when they do, IT needs to be able to go into the system and see exactly when, where, and why the call went bad -- did things go sour on the enterprise WAN, across the Internet pipe into the cloud, or in Microsoft Azure somewhere?

During his keynote, Pall made clear that Microsoft expects partners to share the responsibility of ensuring a great quality experience with Skype for Business cloud voice. To that end, he announced, Microsoft has a goal of certifying the hundreds of partners it has globally on the Skype Operations Framework (SOF) launched in July. "We want to put them through this process so the deployments always come out right," he said.

In the time leading up to and during Ignite I was able to catch up with a few of the Skype for Business partners looking to help carry the onus.

Last week, for example, Unify Square announced the PowerSuite operations management suite for Skype for Business. Enhancements include the delivery of a single-pane-of-glass view for hybrid Skype for Business environments, customized call reporting and analysis, an insights center for highlighting and surfacing issues to IT's attention, and the ability to manage Polycom and Yealink IP phones.

Sample screen captures from a Unify Square PowerSuite dashboard

And at Ignite, Unify Square announced a "Special Edition" bundle of its PowerAssurance managed Skype for Business service. This "mega" bundle comprises a set of tools and systems that map to the SOF's plan, deliver, and operate phases. It includes a new subscription-based site transformation accelerator service, to support either cloud or on-premises voice rollouts; its UC RightTrack design workshop; a network readiness service; and a user adoption service. Each service is available on its own, as well.

Network assessment also factored into announcements from IR, Modality Systems, and Nectar.

IR announced the IR Prognosis UC Assessor, now available for use by partners in assessing and testing their clients' network readiness for Skype for Business Online. The UC Assessor auto-detects the closest Skype for Business Online edge points to your sites, tests performance from multiple sites, simulates Skype traffic for load testing, and identifies network segments performing poorly, among other functionality.

Modality introduced a trio of SOF-compatible products for optimizing Skype for Business and Office 365 cloud deployments: UC 365 – Network Assessment; Cloud Explorer, for those looking to begin their cloud journeys; and Cloud Accelerator, for those wanted to accelerate their cloud transformations.

And Nectar launched an advanced partner designation program for helping customers identify which partners have been certified to leverage its Perspective synthetic traffic generation engine to design, deploy, and report the results of network assessments for Skype for Business cloud and on-premises deployments.

I've only scratched the surface here of what's available from the Skype for Business partner ecosystem to help assure that great experience of which Sinclair and Pall talk. With the right evaluation, planning, and deployment processes, as they say, it does seem possible to make sure the voice that journeys across the Microsoft cloud does indeed magically "sound the same" from one end to the next.

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